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Black Religion

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There are various 20th century ideologies which have formed the modern Black Religious quest for human fulfilment, self-actualisation and equity within the Black community. Some of these are explored below, but Black Religion has always been a focal element in the long and tortured history of Black people around the world. Black Religion is simply meant to connote the religious orientations and arrangements of people of African descent across the globe. 

The black church often represented the cultural, social, and political womb of the black community. Historically, the black church has been a place of fellowship and solidarity. It had a particular significance during slavery when this was the only time slaves could really console each other or exult. W. E. B. Du Bois is the founding figure of the sociological study of the Black Church. W.E.B. Du Bois and the Sociological Study of the Black Church and Religion, 1897–1914 showcases classic studies on the Black Church and Black Religion. Bois evaluation of the six functions of Philadelphia’s Black Church in book ‘The Philadelphia Negro’ (1899) represented an early example of a “functional analysis” of a religious group. His book, ‘In The Negro Church’ (1903), he integrated the findings from religious census data, denominational statistics, small area surveys, ethnographic fieldwork, and historical studies to paint a picture of the vibrant role the Black Church played in the African American community. Du Bois examines the Black Church in three of the essays included in book, The Souls of Black Folk (1903), other sociological essays and several Atlanta University Conference annual reports.

Many of those in the black church would label themselves as ‘Christians’. Some say Christianity is a white man’s religion. It is true that there is a long and ugly history of abuse of African-Americans at the hands of Anglo Christians. Afrocentric interpretations of history often point to slavery and lynching as proof that Christianity is inherently anti-black. Authors, Craig Keener and Glen Usry contend that Christianity can be Afrocentric. Through studies they found that racism is not unique to Christianity. They explained that the “world history is also our history and the Bible is also our book.” Their book ‘Black Man’s Religion’ is one of the first of its kind, a pro-Christian reading of religion and history from a black perspective.

Academics have given a great deal of attention to the socio-political and theological importance of Black Religion. James H. Cone, Father of Black liberation theology, maintained the idea that Christianity and racism are antitheses and cannot coexist. Cone argued that one cannot be a genuine Christian and be anti-black, nor can one be a true follower of the God of justice and love, while remaining silent in the face of oppression and injustice toward black and brown people. Cone declared that “God was Black” because God has deliberately chosen to be on the side of the poor and the oppressed, which included the African American people who are historical victims of white oppression, violence, and white injustice. Cone believed that in order for Christianity to be a truly abundant faith for the black and brown people, it must be the antagonist of whiteness and dissociate itself from white supremacy and privileges. Cone argued that white churches must reject the racist structures that are inherent to the birth and practices of white Christianity.

Cone also maintained the view that theological thinking is rooted in the theologian values, attitude and imagination of a world view. Biblical theology never separates theology from ethics, the human experiences response to God and nature; these are intermingled in the biblical idea of good religion and complete theological truth. While we must always pursue theological truths that are rooted in God’s revelation to humanity, we should not undermine the setting and human environment in which God communicated his will, plan, and message for humanity. Cone believed that God always speaks in the context of the human experience and the culture of the people who are the recipients of his gracious revelation: the poor of Yahweh. God is not absent in any culture in the world. God has indeed spoken to black people within the parameters of their own culture. Many believe Black Religion and faith in God is what saved Black people from Slavery.

The book, ‘The Burden of Black Religion’ by Curtis Evans traces ideas about African American religion from the antebellum period to the middle of the twentieth century. Evans argues for a deep-rooted notion that blacks were somehow “naturally” religious. That this assumed natural impulse toward religion served as a common trait of black people’s humanity.

Many might agree with Evans evaluation of black people and religion. But, as the world has begun to value science, probability, reasoning and rationality over religion, the idea of a distinctive black religiousness is sometimes used to justify the inequalities for many blacks in the current world.

Some might argue religion is what sets black people back from opportunity. While slavery abolitionists would probably argue that black religion is what gave black people the capacity for finding freedom. Social scientists, both black and white, have sought to find that in actuality black people can and have incorporated themselves into white or western culture just fine, even while practicing religion. The findings have changed the narratives surrounding black religion to form a more modernistic and multiracial rhetoric.

There is a connection between black religious ideas and political activism. Black religion and black political thought are closely aligned. There are many religious ideas and practices from across the African diaspora that give rise to the political tradition now known as ‘Black Nationalism‘. While the tradition is often imagined to be secular or even anti-religious, it emboldens deep religious roots. It is a becoming from the black struggles over centuries, a collaboration to create a new nation, a new people from slave rebellions to the Black Power revolutionist to our contemporary Black Lives Matter movement. Black Nationalism is the from the emergence of Black Religion.

The growth of black journals continues, where scholars explore the subject of black family history and genealogy. More studies are looking at the history of particular black families and their history, or a particular group of black people, i.e. the Maroons. More funding is becoming available for this type of research to be able to exhibit and teach more about the contributions of black historical figures and their backgrounds. More research needs to be done across the board on black families in the diaspora and the origins of black families on the continent of Africa.


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This page was last updated on 07, January, 2022

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